By Stacy M. Brown (The Washington Informer/NNPA Member)
In 2017, Wells Fargo announced a commitment to create 250,000 African American homeowners by 2027.
In addition to lending $60 billion for home purchases over that 10-year period, the banking giant has committed to increase the diversity of its sales team, particularly African American home mortgage consultants.
Further, bank officials said they’ve dedicated $15 million for initiatives focused on homebuyer education and counseling for Black families.
This commitment is only part of the evidence that Wells Fargo has made over the past year to show that it values customers of color, said Cerita Battles, the senior vice president and head of retail diverse segments at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
“It is really important to understand that, as we made our intentions public, we did so with some of the country’s largest and most influential African American organizations standing by our side,” she said, noting that those organizations included the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the National Urban League (NUL) and the NAACP.
“Their support not only added a measure of accountability and a great deal of legitimacy to this commitment, but also the power and scope of their collective constituent networks,” Battles said.
NAREB and affiliates of NUL currently are engaged in homebuyer education and counseling to help African Americans prepare for homeownership while the NAACP’s Economic Development arm assists constituents with financial preparedness, which is a key component to being ready to purchase a home, she said.
“And, our commitment aligns very well with NAREB’s ‘2 million in 5 years’ initiative which is aimed at creating 2 million new African American homeowners in five years,” Battles said.
The commitment appears headed in a positive direction.
By the end of 2017, Wells Fargo reported that it helped 23,161 African American families with $5.7 billion in home loan originations which was a significant increase over the previous year and 99.7 percent of the bank’s first-year goal despite a falling mortgage market, Battles said.
The bank also dedicated more than $1.8 million in grants to support homebuyer education and counseling for African American audiences, exceeding its first-year goal.
Battles said the majority of support from that work comes primarily from three areas of the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, including the National Housing Grant Program, the Homeownership Counseling Grant Program, and down payment assistance grants through NeighborhoodLIFT.
“We are also supporting new initiatives like HomeFree-USA’s Center for Financial Advancement Program which will offer financial education and expose students to the mortgage industry as a career option on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),” Battles said. “And, the future holds great promise as we have several improvements that have been put in place for 2018 including doubling the amount of money dedicated to NeighborhoodLIFT.”
Battles said that Wells Fargo also plans to pilot new pricing models for home mortgages under $175,000 and to launch a national housing counseling program that the company can share across the entire mortgage industry.
The company’s homeownership commitment to African Americans has allowed them to also look inward.
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“There is no doubt the mortgage industry lacks diversity, especially when it comes to the sales force. So, for us, one of the important pieces to this puzzle is to begin building a pipeline of new, young, energetic, bright minds who might not normally consider mortgage lending as a career choice,” Battles said. “We hope to achieve this through partnerships with organizations that can help get the word out to young African Americans as they grow and shape their thoughts and plans about the future.”
For instance, Wells Fargo is partnering with the National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America which has built connections to HBCUs.
Battles said that those connections were great conduits for Wells Fargo to provide information either with materials or by showing up in person for events.
Comparably, HomeFree-USA’s Center for Financial Advancement Symposium is just beginning a program that Wells Fargo is supporting that works with similar intent.
“In fact, I recently had an opportunity to speak at their first event at Fisk University, a historically Black university located in Nashville, Tennessee,” Battles said, noting that she was counted among the 10 Black women executives from the mortgage industry who had the opportunity to speak from the heart about their personal and professional journeys.
“We described the attributes needed to be successful in life in front of 31 young women and faculty members,” Battles said. “We know that we can’t just depend on the coming workforce of the future. We also do our best to add seasoned veterans to our sales force. And this is really foundational; we leverage our relationships with realtors, builders and nonprofits to ensure that folks who are already in the market know that Wells Fargo is not only a viable option, but also has a program going that focuses on African American borrowers and their communities.”
The approach is two-pronged, Battles continued.
“We are engaging and attracting current experts while inspiring new generations to consider [the mortgage industry] as a career possibility for their future,” Battles said.